A special place for Kaitaia's memorial


War memorials can be seen the length and breadth of New Zealand, but Kaitaia's is believed to be unique.

It wasn't the first memorial to the men who served and died at Gallipoli - Vietnam veteran Raymond Beatson, who grew up in Kaitaia and is driving the project to restore the sculpture in time for the centennial of its unveiling in 2016, said a pohutukawa tree had been planted "somewhere down the line," and a stone had been commissioned in Auckland - but it was the first sculpted memorial in the country.

It was notable for other reasons too. It was unveiled on March 24, 1916, more than two years before the end of the Great War; it was initiated not by the government (which actually resisted it) but by Te Rarawa (led by Riapo Puhipi, aka Leopold Busby); and it was inscribed in both English and te reo Maori.

"All those factors really do make it unique," Far North Regional Museum Trust Board chairman Phil Cross said.

"You have to remember that this was a time when te reo was frowned upon. It was a time when Maori soldiers were not accorded the same privileges as other returned servicemen.

In fact a number of them lost their land at that time.

"This is a remarkable piece of history that says a lot about this community, and it is hugely important that it be preserved."

Bill Edwards, Northland manager of the Historic Places Trust, who is supporting Mr Beatson's application for Lottery funding for the memorial's restoration, said the angel was sculpted from Italian carrara marble, standing on a plinth bearing an inscription that was remarkable and probably unique in being fully bi-lingual, "bicultural in its embracing the service and sacrifice of both Maori and Pakeha, living and dead, from the Mangonui County, and poetic in its locally composed languages."

The memorial was a place of outstanding significance as one of the first in New Zealand. The service and sacrifice it originally commemorated, made by the New Zealand troops at Gallipoli in 1915, were considered to be important elements in the development of New Zealand's national identity.

"Its unique combination of bilingual and bicultural characteristics lends weight to its symbolic value, rarity, and its special national significance," Mr Edwards said.

Mr Beatson has estimated the cost of restoring the memorial, including its lettering, at around $50,000, and expected a portion of that would need to be raised in the local community. Of more immediate concern was finding the angel's left arm, broken off many years ago and not seen since.

Anyone who has any idea where the missing limb might be was urged to contact the museum in Kaitaia.

"I would love to get it back," Mr Cross said.

"The importance of this memorial cannot be overestimated - it reminds us of the contribution Maori have made to protecting democracy in this country - and it would be wonderful to see it complete once again."

- Northland Age

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